Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Classic Christmas Tunes

By Bill Strong

For years I have been known as the one in the family who sings Christmas songs when I am tired. Doesn't matter the season, I just do it. Some of you may have been subjected to this and in the spirit of the season, let me say that I am sorry.

Anyway, since I have this wide experience with Christmas and Christmas music, who better is there to offer these three Christmas CD reviews for your listening pleasure?

Again, you're welcome.

First off, let's talk about Tony Bennett's "A Swingin' Christmas", which came out last year.

Let me preface this by stating the Tony Bennett is, to me, the smoothest man on the face of the Earth. If he says that sleigh bells are ringing, trust me, I am listening.

That's why you simply cannot go wrong with "A Swingin' Christmas". The man recorded eleven versions of traditional holiday favorites with Count Basie's Band. Count Basie's Band. I didn't even know they were still around. It's a Christmas miracle!

Favorite cuts on this CD are: "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Winter Wonderland", and "O Christmas Tree". This CD became an instant classic in my family (with incredibly diverse musical tastes) and if you're looking for something more traditional, Tony Bennett's "A Swingin' Christmas" is for you.

Now I know what you're thinking: you're hanging your stockings with care but you need something with a little more rock 'n roll, preferably with the guy who played guitar in the Stray Cats. I hear you. I feel you. And I highly recommend Brian Setzer's "Boogie Woogie Christmas".

My wife and I went to see Brian Setzer and his orchestra's Christmas concert last year and while the set list wasn't as Christmas-y as we'd have hoped--he played covers and Stray Cats songs--the man can seriously play rockabilly guitar. It was just tremendous. On this CD, Setzer's version of Elvis' "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" and "Jingle Bells" are sure to make you get up and dance--especially if you've been spending some quality time with the egg nog. Ho ho ho indeed.

But with Brian Setzer, his version of "The Nutcracker Suite" is what gets you into the tent and makes you feel like you just shouldn't leave. The original "Suite" is an exercise in being super-quiet (triangles!) but with the power of his orchestra behind him, Brian finds a way to make it rock.

Last and in no way the least, you know that nobody goes wrong with "A Charlie Brown Christmas".

I'm pushing 40 and I still watch the show every year. Why? Because it still makes you feel good about life--no small feat in these hyper-cynical times. If somebody doesn't have fond memories of "A Charlie Brown Christmas", then you really need to stay away from them because they are The Grinch--and not the creepy live-action Jim Carrey kind!

Where do you start with CD? I still get chills the first time I hear the children sing "Christmas Time Is Here". "Für Elise" is a great song too and that segues into "The Christmas Song". That's the "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" tune that was made famous by Nat King Cole. In fact, Vince Guaraldi's verson on this CD is probably the only rival verson worth as much as Nat King Cole's rendition.

Plus, let's face it, The Vince Guaraldi Trio makes listening to "Greensleeves" worth the effort...and that isn't exactly anything I would be prone to do under normal conditions.

If visions of Snoopy playing hockey on Woodstock's birdbath aren't enough to make you feel all warm inside like a big cup of hot cocoa, then I am sorry, but you leave me no choice. I give you People's Exhibit A: "Linus and Lucy"--which I do believe that the Smithsonian has deemed to be The Greatest Song of All-Time. (Don't check the facts because I didn't. Accept it as fact. It just is.)

Think about it: is it possible to be mad/upset/sad/angry when you hear the familiar first bars of Schroeder's piano kick in? If you had a terrible day at work and co-workers (who are not me) are driving you crazy or the kids are running around I DARE YOU to put on "Linus and Lucy" and you just try to remain upset. I'm tellin' you, you're gonna find that you just can't do it. Simply cannot be done. I will not argue on this. You'll be thanking me later for this new coping mechanism.

"Linus and Lucy" is like a great sweater. You don't want to wear it all the time--you just need to pull that sweater/song out when it matters and you need to feel good. Well, the holiday is when it matters. Play this song and get it in gear!

I know we said "three" but I'd be remiss if I didn't add an honorable mention.

Do you like surf guitar? Do you like a band of dudes wearing Mexican wrestling masks? My answer to both is: who doesn't?!?

That's why on the ninth day, Los Straitjackets were born! Go out and getcha a copy of "'Tis The Season for Los Straitjackets" and let the dueling guitars of Eddie Angel and Danny Amis fill you full of instrumental Christmas cheer. "'Tis The Season" kicks off with a rousing "Here Comes Santa Claus" that sounds great at the beach or in the dead of winter. Top songs on this CD are: "A Marshmallow World", "Jingle Bell Rock", and "Frosty the Snowman". "'Tis The Season" also features some Stritjacket originals that are sure to become Christmas favorites for you and the other hep cats you know.

So there you go, the holiday season has a flavor for everyone: Smooth, Rock 'n' Roll and Classic. How do you take yours? Feel free to leave some of your Christmas favorites in the comment section and let us know what you think of our selections.

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